Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
The Whole World Accountable to God
It's fitting that we come to the end of this great section on universal sin and guilt the Sunday before Good Friday. Good Friday was when Jesus died for our sins. And everything we have been looking at for the last year in the book of Romans is meant to show how needed and how wonderful is the good news that Christ died in our place. So, as we spend one more message on this great section, let it be for you a deep work of gospel preparation in your life. Let it make you love the gospel. Let it make you dance for joy that you are not just a sinner, but a saved sinner. Let it make you an evangelist - a messenger of forgiveness and hope and joy to everyone you know.
You remember that last week we arrived at Romans 3:9 and the great summary statement: "Are we [Jews] better than they [Gentiles]? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin." Everybody in the world is under sin. Everybody is under the sway and power of sin. Then, in verses 10-18, come six Old Testament quotations to support this -that there is none righteous, not even one.
And now come the final summary statements in verses 19-20. And they are filled with important implications for our lives and for the whole world. This is one of the great things about Christianity. It is not a narrow or provincial or tribal religion. It declares things that have to do with the whole world. "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God" (verse 19). The Law may be written for one people directly, the Jews, but the point of the Law is to stop every mouth and make the whole world accountable (or, guilty) to God.
Here are some of the implications that we will come back to.
1) Everybody in the whole world is guilty before God. 2) No mouth anywhere in the world - from the primitive tribe to the university lecture hall - will be able to raise a legitimate objection against God's judgment. Every mouth will be stopped. 3) The mouths that do raise objections against God now will one day be silenced. Every mouth will be stopped. 4) Therefore do not fear the voice of man. All his railing will cease. Fear God. 5) Remember that your own heart is sinful and your own mouth will be stopped, and so, while there is still time, turn to Christ and, as verse 22 says, receive "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe." Do you see that great turning point in verses 21-22? "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction."
The Steps in Paul's Argument
But before we ponder some of these implications more closely, think with me about the way Paul puts his thoughts together in these two verses (19-20). These matters of sin and Law and justification are more important than anything you will hear on the news today. And you will be a strong and sturdy and durable and deep and happy Christian if you get these great matters branded on your brain and carved into your heart.
You can see four steps in this argument very clearly because of the way Paul puts his thoughts together.
Step 1 - verse 19a: "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law." So the first and primary hearers of the Law of God are the Jews who have been called out to receive the oracles of God (3:1).
Step 2 - verse 19b: " . . . so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God." The goal and effect of speaking to one chosen and privileged people (the Jews) is to stop the mouths of all peoples.
Step 3 - verse 20a: [All mouths are stopped] ". . . because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight." This is why every mouth is stopped. We will come back and try to explain why that is.
Step 4 - verse 20b: [no flesh will be justified by works of the Law] " . . . for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."
Through the Law Comes the Knowledge of Sin
Now let's work our way backward through this text to see how each part of this argument works. So first take the fourth step in his argument: ". . . for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." What does this mean? You might think: Well, that's easy, it means that the Law tells us about sin; it teaches us what sin is and shows us how to live and how not to live. It says, "Thou shalt not lie . . . Thou shalt not steal . . . Thou shalt not kill . .." and so on.
But I don't think that's what it means. Because that meaning won't let the argument work. Verse 19b is the reason given for verse 19a. So let's try it out: "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; because the Law teaches what sin is. Because the Law teaches us not to steal and lie and kill." I don't think that works. The fact that the Law teaches us what sin is, doesn't show why we can't be justified by the works of the Law. There has to be more in verse 20b than mere information about the Law.
We can see what this more is from Romans 7:7-8, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law [Note: here is what Romans 3:20b means - the Law brings about the knowledge of sin]; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COVET.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." That is, it lies, to a large degree, dormant and unrecognized.
There it is: Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (3:20b says); how so? Well, when the Law meets an unregenerate heart (that is, a person without the Holy Spirit and without faith), the effect is that it reveals the rebellion in our hearts; it makes our rebellion against God and his Law known; it brings it out. Sin rises up in the presence of the Law and shows itself with vivid colors.
It's like a teenager who goes to the mailbox to get the mail. He brings it in and puts it on the table. He flips through it and sees nothing for him, and so he starts to walk away. No bad desires at all here, right? But then he notices at the top of one of the postcards the words, "For parents only!" And suddenly there is a desire to read the card. Are those words on the card sin? No. But through those words come the knowledge of sin. Suddenly what was lying dormant in the heart is shown to really be there - the desire to read what one ought not to read.
So it is with the Law. It stirs up resistance wherever the Holy Spirit is not ruling the heart. Remember from several weeks ago, Law minus the Spirit = the letter. And the letter kills (see Romans 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
No Justification by Works of the Law
Now we can see the connection with step three in Paul's argument (3:20a). "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight." Why? Because everywhere the Law meets an unregenerate heart (without the Spirit), it awakens resistance not faith. It brings out sin. It doesn't overcome sin, it reveals sin. It makes it known. "For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." So the Law does not bring about justification, it brings about condemnation. It doesn't set anyone right with God - because it doesn't have the power to do that. Why? Why does the Law only bring out our sinfulness and make it more obvious? Why does it have no power to bring out, or give, righteousness?
We find the answer in Romans 8:3: "What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh." Notice: the Law is not defective in itself. But Romans 8:3 says, it is weak because of the flesh, that is, because of our unregenerate condition. That's why, by works of the Law, nobody is going to get right with God. The Law without the Spirit is called "letter" and it kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). By itself the Law just brings out sin, not faith, and when it does, it is death-giving, not life-giving (Romans 7:9-10). So it can't justify us. It can only condemn us, unless Christ bears our condemnation and releases the Spirit into our lives (Romans 8:3-9).
There you have steps 4 and 3: the Law awakens sin, not faith, when it meets mere flesh (the unregenerate heart); and therefore, by the works of the Law nobody will be justified. The Law can't do it. It is weak through the flesh (Romans 8:3).
Through the Law Came the Knowledge of Sin
Now, still moving backward in Paul's argument, how do those two steps (3 and 4) help us understand verse 19, the first two steps in Paul's argument? In verse 19 he said that "whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to (literally: guilty before) God." Why does what the Law says to the Jews show the whole world guilty before God?
The Jews have had such advantages spiritually over the other peoples of the world, that if anyone could benefit from the Law of God - if anyone could be justified through the Law of God - then surely the Jews could. But they were not justified by the works of the Law. Why? Because through the Law came the knowledge of sin - the Law was weak through the flesh; it only awakened sin and rebellion, not faith (Romans 8:7-8; 9:32).
If this is what happened among the people who had the greatest advantages -if the Jewish people are so sinful that the "holy," "just," "good" and "spiritual" Law of God (Romans 7:12,14) can, by itself, only awaken sin and rebellion, rather than faith, then there is no reason to believe that the rest of the world would respond any better. So the lesson of Israel's response to the Law of God is that every mouth is stopped and all the world is guilty before God. If Israel can't be justified by the works of the Law, nobody can.
That's Paul's argument as he comes to the end of this great section of the Letter to the Romans. So let's listen to the implications one more time.
1) Everybody in the whole world is guilty before God. This is the great lesson of these first three chapters. I am guilty. You are guilty. Everybody in your family is guilty. Everybody at your school and work place is guilty. The clerk at the store is guilty. The bus driver is guilty. Your next-door neighbor is guilty. And all the people in Yugoslavia and Kosovo and China and Guinea and Honduras are guilty before God. This should sober you about yourself and everyone else that you meet. This is a fact that is not in any public school curriculum, though it is more important than any other fact they teach. Hold on to this truth. Let it make you a wise and penetrating counselor and a guide toward God.
2) No mouth anywhere in the world - from the primitive tribe to the university lecture hall - will be able to raise a legitimate objection against God's judgment. Every mouth will be stopped. God has put numerous lesson books in the world to show the world that we are all guilty. We have seen at least three.
· One in chapter one, the lesson book of nature: Romans 1:20, "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." · One in chapter two, the lesson book of conscience: Romans 2:15, "They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." · And now one in chapter three, the lesson book of Israel, Roman 3:19, "Whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God."
The point of all these lesson books for the nations is that every mouth shall be stopped and no legitimate objections will be raised against the justice of God at the judgment day. Get right with him now, because no one will make a case against him at the last day.
3) The mouths that raise objections against God now will one day be silenced. Every mouth will be stopped. O how great are the boasts of tiny men these days. "Where is God?" they say. But only for a short season. Then they perish, and meet him. And their mouth is stopped. All boasting will be silenced. As Isaiah 2:17 says, "The pride of man will be humbled and the loftiness of men will be abased; and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day."
4) Therefore do not fear the voice of man. All his railing will cease. Fear God. O that God would give us all a radically God-saturated way of looking at the world! O that we would look on every intimidating derision of God and say: this will be silenced. "Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14).
5. Finally, remember that your own heart is sinful, and that, were it not for the power and grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit, you and I would be as rebellious as any man in the world. Remember that your own mouth will be stopped. And so, while there is still time, turn to Christ and, as verse 22 says, receive "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe."
The Great Turning Point
Consider the great turning point of this letter in verses 21-22: "But now apart from the Law [which is weak through our rebellious flesh] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe."
Believe in Christ for your righteousness. Trust him. Lean on him and not yourself. It is a gift. You cannot earn it. Trust him.